If Your Neighbor Is A Combat Veteran, Could Your Fourth Of July Fireworks Land You In Court?

If you let off some firecrackers or other fireworks this 4th of July, could you get sued for aggravating someone's post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Maybe. Here's what you should know.

It's An Independence Day Irony For Some Veterans

Every Independence Day, backyard revelers celebrate the 4th of July with fireworks. In a cruel irony, some of our nation's veterans - for whom the holiday holds special significance - dread the date every year. They're among a growing cadre of combat veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the fireworks can bring back intense anxiety, panic, and stress.

For some, the explosive popping noise of firecrackers can do it - mimicking the sound of gunfire in the dark. For others, the whine of bottle rockets before they explode mid-air might sound like real rocket fire about to rain down from overhead. Either way, veterans began posting notices in their yards over the last couple years asking others to be courteous with fireworks because of their condition.

Is It Just Insensitive Or Actually Intentional?

You don't have to honor your neighbor's request, naturally. Maybe you feel that if you let your neighbor know in advance about the backyard party you're having and the fireworks that you've met him or her halfway. Your neighbor, however, may not feel the same way.

Your neighbor might accuse you of intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), a type of personal injury that causes - or in this cases aggravates - serious emotional problems in the victim. In order to be successful, your neighbor would have to prove that:

  • you knew that your conduct was going to cause him or her distress
  • you did it on purpose anyhow
  • your actions were outrageous or extreme in nature
  • your actions were the cause of his or her distress

Lawsuits like these are notoriously difficult to prove. Courts tend to be more receptive to them, however, if the victim can show that they suffered some sort of actual harm as a result, or if there was physical damage done.

For example, if you lost track of your bottle rockets and they ended up landing on your neighbor's house, catching his shingles on fire - your neighbor might end up having a good case against you. He could sue you for the damage to his property plus the IIED. Alternately, if your neighbor suffered a nervous breakdown over the fireworks and ended up in the hospital for a week, he might be able to convince a court of the severity of the issue.

Is a lawsuit likely to succeed? Probably not. However, that doesn't mean that your neighbor won't drag you into court anyhow if the situation gets out of control. To protect yourself, go easy on the fireworks this year if you have a combat veteran in the neighborhood - or be prepared to contact an attorney for assistance with your defense.

For more information, contact Whiting, Hagg, Hagg, Dorsey & Hagg or a similar firm.